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BOTSWANA     INFO and DIARY   2016   

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Photos   Diary 1 + 2

I had an invitation to visit a project in South Africa, I have done some pro-bono work on in the past. Now, it should be launched commercially, and I'm asked to give my input, and hopefully work on it, in the future. Realising how little I actually know about South African highland and tropical plants, I figured I might do a tour around the premises. Especially the Kalahari Desert and Okavango Delta are drawing me.

While studding the flora, I will try to sell some assistance to the parks I meet along the road. I also hope to be able to collect material for DNA-tests for Dr. Tanja Schuster, who is mapping Oxygonum.  I will visit the wild and unspoiled nature scattered around this area. I plan to do a quick tour from South Africa through Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Some facts about the country. (Jump to diary)
Republic of Botswana is a rather large country in middle of southern Africa. It is bound by Namibia to the east and north, Zimbawbe to the east and South Africa to the south. It covers 581,730 km, measuring roughly 1000 times 1000 kilometres, and it feels significantly bigger, driving its roads! The country is predominantly flat, tending toward gently rolling tableland. Botswana is dominated by the Kalahari Desert, which covers up to 70% of its land surface. The Okavango Delta, one of the world's largest inland deltas, is in the northwest. The Makgadikgadi Pan, a large salt pan, lies in the north.
With only a population of little more than two million citizens, here are quite some nature. 70% of the country's citizens are Christians. 20% have no religion, while 10% of the people held other believes.

MONEY: The currency is  Botswana Pula (BWP). 1 DKK=1,55 BWP. 1=11,57 BWP. 

CLIMATE:
Botswana is landlocked and has a subtropical desert climate characterized by great differences in day and night temperatures, virtually no rainfall and overall low humidity. I'll be here in the "rainy season", and can expect an occasional late afternoon shower. Temperatures during the day around 32C, significantly colder at night.
The northern part is semi-arid while the southern 70% is arid.
I will expect 50-100 mm of rain - they call it the rainy season! The temperatures should be a nice 20-32C.

ANIMALS and PLANTS:
Botswana is around 90% covered in savannah, varying from shrub savannah in the southwest in the dry areas to tree savannah consisting of trees and grass in the wetter areas. Three national parks and seven game reserves that are wildlife shelters occupy 17% of the land area of Botswana. The three national parks are the Chobe National Park, the Nxai Pan and Makgadikgadi National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
The plants in Botswana I especially want to find, beside from the Oxygonum are some of the numerous caudiciforms, found here. A baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) is just one of them. Floral diversity of vegetation in Botswana, which receives only an average annual rainfall of about 450 millimetres (18 in) only, is generally defined under three broad heads namely, hardweld, sandveld and Okavango deltaved .
Botswana is a natural game reserve for most animals found in southern Africa, including lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, African buffalo, hyenas, and 22 species of antelope.
Bird species reported are 593 out of which eight species are under the globally threatened category. Eastern cattle egret (Bubulcus coromandus) is the national bird of Botswana.

DIARY
(Hoover over the photos, to enlarge them and see the text)

22/1 Arriving by road from Zimbabwe, the difference is not as significantly as the other crossings I have done the last two months. And the border is rather quick to pass, although a bit expensive for the car: US$150. We find a gas station that accepts Visa card, and then it is Chobe National Park that is the next target.
Some sandy but fairly easy sand trails lead along the Chobe River. Here are thousands of Impalas along the road, hippos in the ponds along the river and Marabou Storks on the islands in the river. Vultures sits on carcasses while the white headed fishing eagles fly right over our heads. Warthogs are everywhere, so are the Baboons. A few tortoises cross the road, and elephants can be seen in the bushes along the road and in the marsh. The giraffes in huge groups are on both sides of the road, completely neglecting our presses.
From time to time, we get a great look over the river and the marshes behind it. We even meet a few cars, and new experience to us.  Hammerheads, Black&White Ibises, Bee-eaters, Nile Geese and some huge, dark geese, ox-pickers, weavers in red and yellow,  and many other birds are all over the place.
Then the elephants seem to be everywhere. Coming from the marshes, crossing over the road, numerous in the bushes right along the road and on the road. In some places, they are mixed with large herds of giraffes. Some meadows are covered in yellow flowers of low Fabaceaes while the grass seems to have been eaten most places. Never the less, herbs make the ground look green and fertile.

Well over noon, we reach the picnic spot, and make a short break. The toilets are as in a nice hotel, and the animals are everywhere. When we continue, we see bathing elephants, drinking giraffes, Large Buzzard, sleeping giraffes, more Impalas, Waterbucks, hippos and way more.
We reach the camp in this end of the park at four, but don't have sufficient funding for the US$80 campsite - nor the lust. We take the closest road to the public road, passing through the park - a bumpy and narrow sandy trail, and head towards Ngoma, when we reach the sealed. We pass a grassing elephant, five metres from the road, but don't bother to stop. We have only driven around 30 kilometres within the park, which stretches for around 200 kilometres south-west.
 It is just a border control, not a city at all. No ATM, no camp sites. We can either go back to the border we came in from, or head towards Maun, 400 kilometres south of here by sandy roads.
We find a nice campsite in Muchenja for half price, and settle in. We have a view over a plain, to which herds of zebras are seen in the mornings. As we start cooking, the distance thunder get closer and closer. The owner pops by, and we learn a bit about the long sealed road contra the sandy shortcut.
I favour the sandy one, leading right through one national park after another, while the sealed one is dull and eventless.
The first drops are falling, and as we start to eat - fast, the owner returns with bad news: He just spoken to a friend, telling him it is a real bad storm, coming our way. The good news is, he offers us a chalet-upgrade for free. Hard to say no! We get an adorable little cottage with kitchen, bath and shower under the stars. We try to mess up as little as possible, but enjoy the luxury.
I sit and work real late, but the rain seems to go around the area for now. One of the officers at the border complained about the missing rain, and this is surely an El Nino year in Botswana too.

23/1 We avoid the rain until six, then the sky opens for a short while, and I'm wondering if the small holes in the tent-cover is on top or buttom of the pool it forms. On the bright side; the rain actually fasten the surface of the sandy road, and binds the dust.
We leave at seven, because it is a long drive, and  we need to reach Maun to camp. The first 50 kilometres is nicely sealed, and offers some great - but rain-spoiled motives of huge baobabs and rondawel farms with bomas.
The sandy road is fare from what I had imagined. It is just two real deep wheel tracks with grass in-between, and they are loose! And this is the beginning. How it will be the next 350 kilometres of unoccupied country, I can only imagine. I have to focus 100% on the tracks, and have both hands on the steering wheel, and it is bumpy, and the trails catch the car and force it sideways.
Suddenly the sealed road seems so much more appealing. We turn around, pass the lodge and then into the Chobe National Park by the public road. We have to sign in, but it is for free, where the sandy road costs US$60. Enough to pay the diesel for the entire detour.
The sealed road through the park is a poor man's game drive, and we see several elephants on the shoulders of the road. Then we spot some large, black birds. It is several pairs of Ground Ravens, scavenging in the grass along the road. It seems like they don't notice us at all. Well, except the one posing on a branch in all kind of postures.
While we are watching them, a family group of elephants cross the road, 100 metres away.
Next spotting is some Spotted Hyenas, right next to the road. They ignore us, drink rainwater from a iron-lit and chew on a carcass. The alpha female has a radio collar on, and it is only when a truck stops, they redraw.

In Kasane, we find a ATM and the south-eastern highway towards Nata. Nice, well-maintained road with only a few huge trucks. It leads us through Sibuyu Forest Reserve along the Zimbabwe border. In other places, it is completely flat farmland with fields, measuring several kilometres each way. A single little city around the huge corn silos are the only settlement.
In the surprisingly small Nata, nothing make us stop. A few kilometres outside, we stop to relax and have a bit of lunch. Then we drive through Nxai Pan National Park, and more elephants are grassing along the road. Actually, we see just as many outside parks as inside.
Here, the grass takes over from the bushes, and they suffer significantly more from drought. But it seems like it is coming to an end. The rain have followed us, and now it catches up. Black clouds with lightning and occasional heavy rain.

We reach the Maun Wildlife Office ten minutes too late. We have to pre-book and get a confirmation to go to any parks in Botswana, and the office is in one of four tin the whole country. Slightly annoying, improvising like we are. We fill the car once more, and try to find a house to sleep in. The first lodge has a sign, telling they are closed, but first at the office door. Not at the signs, showing to it the last five kilometres. The next has both a chalet and a restaurant, and as we move in, the rain and thunder gains strength.
After dinner, we plan the next twelve days - or at least make some guesses of what we can accomplice. Here are many uncertainties, and little information. The boys at the bar are sure it will rain tomorrow, and then I don't feel like sitting in a canoe in the Okavango. Many of the roads on our map, which connect the dots are gray; "ask locals for use".
We have roof over our heads this evening, but it seems like our tent is actually more waterproof - if it is assembled right. Here, the straw roof leaks over one bed and on the floor.

24/1 After a slow start on the day, we drive down to the city to pay the mandatory park fees at the Wildlife Office. It is a clear and sunny day, not rainy as expected. We find the office, but can not pay the fees, before we have a confirmed reservation from the private run campsites, and we can't enter the park without a prepaid fee.
We find one of the agent-offices opened, and are able to make a camp reservation and payment for Okavango. The other offices are apparently closed on Sundays. Back to the Wildlife Office to pay for two days in Okavango.
The entrance guard is doing his morning routine, coming from the back of the office, barely dressed. The first officer we talk too, look like the worse hangover. The second is sleeping over the table, and a one year old child is playing on the floor while the television is turned up. Neither seems to be sure what to do or say, despite this is the only function of the office. We get a piece of paper and pay 580 Pula.
Then we look for an internet cafe to try and make the additional camp reservations online, but the cafs are either off-line of simply closed. One is at an exchange office, but she won't touch the 5500 Mozambican Metical I'm stocked with.
We are back at our little cosy house before noon, and fine-tune the plan. I kind of connect to the internet, and Gry catch up on her stuff. We are located ten metres from the Okavango River, in a real nice lodge.
The afternoon is spend sewing, washing, prepare slideshows, make budget, figuring the Okavango experience and talk. We even get a hotmail account back from the banned.

25/1 I start the day early, using the sparse internet to upload all slideshows from Mozambique. The grass is wet from drew, the birds are sinning and it looks like we are in for yet another perfect day. I see eagles, doves, ibis, kingfisher, drugon, cocoo, water-hens, hammerhead herons, weavers, pigeons, cormorant, bulbuls, lapwings, egrets, sparrows, starlings, flycatchers, martins and many unknown birds. At our house, a nice, little and fat toad sits at the doorstep.
At eight, we start the rather long drive up towards Okavango and South Camp. The first little bit is nicely sealed, but then it turns into a wide but unmaintained sandy road for the last 50 kilometres. As a special treat, some ostriches crosses it in front of us.
The bushes along the trail are clearly elephant-trimmed, and their calling cards are on the road. Despite we are not in the park, here are no farms and it all looks pristine and unspoiled. The recent rain still forms ponds along the road, and even on the road.
A single tortoise crosses the road, and just before the entrance, I finally spot a chameleon. We buy a map of the Moremi Game Reserve, which forms a third of the entire Okavango Delta, and is said to be the most game rich and beautiful part. The ranger advises us to spend the day exploring the Black Pools area, which should be teeming with life. It is just a huge flat, sandy area with open areas and bushland, along with few bit trees, roughly 20*20 kilometres. Several narrow sandy tracks crosses it, and with our map, we actually managesto find around the entire area.

Right inside the park, a lot of the large Marabou Storks are walking around. In the surrounding trees, kites and Golden- and Short Tailed Eagles are sitting, and here must be a carcass somewhere. Then me meet the first little Stein Buck, which is one of the tiniest antelopes.
Right around the corner, four zebras are posing next to the road. A bit further out the narrow sandy road, we passes a huge elephant bull. It is being watched by a White Headed Fishing Eagle from a tree top. Impalas are everywhere, and many of the temporally ponds have small ducks, Nile geese and the huge black gees.
The more permanent pools have huge numbers of egrets in different sizes, Hammer Heads Herons, ibises and different storks. Especially the Saddle Storks are fantastic.
In the more open areas, we see Warthogs and a few Blue Wildebeests. Then a single Secretary Bird walks around, hunting for snakes and lizards.
The shadow under a bush almost hides a couple of Cow Antelopes. We copy the great idea, and make a stop under some huge Sausage Trees for a lunch break. Here are all the Big Five along with other fierce animals, but considering the campsite is not fenced either - who cares. Actually, they advise us to drive to the toilets at night from the tent. Elephants have clearly been to the picnic site, but we only see insects and some skinks.
Back on safari, we meet a large group of giraffes on both sides of the road. Ox-pickers are all over them, and seems to annoy them. On the way to Hippo Pools, we pas a small pond with around 50 hippos in. The road passes close to the pond, and we proceed with care. A few of the biggest show their mouth - which is intimidating, even from a car, but soon after, they relaxes. A few crocodiles swims around, catching fish.
A single one come walking from behind the bushes, but I doubt it been relieving it self there. We see a lot of yearning and also a bit of fighting. Then they all start looking at us, and we sneak off. The next pond is covered with egrets and ibises by some unknown reason. Further down the shore, some Crossed Billed Storks are hunting snails.
The termite hills in the area are huge. Some are more than five metres tall, and very wide. Make sense, looking at the thunderstorm black clouds, gathering with in minutes, just to disappear again. A few lans run across the road, leaving the tiny calf back, and we drive off fast.
The elephants seem to keep their safe distance from the road, but we spot them, way out is the savannah. Same goes for the Buffalos. Hornbills, on the other hand seem to favour the roadsides along with the Blue Starlings. Just behind the first row of bushes, I see what look like Nyalas, but can't be sure.

We reach the main road, which should lead us up to the other camp tomorrow. We were told, the other road was flooded, and this one might be difficult due to water on the road. On the other hand, the Mokoro canoes we planned to sail with within the delta are not operated due to too little water: In short: The roads are flooded, the creeks dry.  I thing improvements can be done!
This road sure has some issues! Huge pools make up 30% of the distance. I try to build some energy up in the car, and it works for the first pools. Then one is way deeper, and the engine gets flooded. It sets out in the middle of the pool, and won't start. I jump out to investigate the engine-room, but besides from the moist, I find no errors. I had expected it by a petrol car, but not a diesel.
While I stand there, knee-deep in muddy water, some hippos are heard real close. Then some rather deep growling. I like these sounds - just not now! It turns out to be the sound of a passing group of Baboons, and that means no other predators are around. I get the engine - or actually; the bloody electronics dried, and the engine fired up again.
Plan B for crossing ponds are 4x4 and low gears. It works fine, although the water reach over the bottom of the car, and the bottom of the pools are slippery. First real problem occurs, when one pool on the road is occupied by a hippo! It turns out to be a polite giant, and it leaves peacefully. A squirrel on the other hand, remain right next to the road when we photograph it, and drive on.

Back at camp, we drive to the designated site QR6 - which seems a bit difficult to find. It is a huge area, and only one other car is found here. It turns out to be at our spot. We find another one, and make a relaxing break within the car.
Then I start on the photos and diary while Gry reads. Some cute squirrels jump around, and despite they seem fearless, they don't seem to be used to be fed. I sit outside the car and work, and the number of animal voices are fantastic. Baboons, hippos, fighting squirrels and other unidentified sounds.
I go for a walk around the campsite while Gry recharges. I see Impalas and the footprints of elephants and zebras. Then I find a small and rather nervous snake. It get to hide in a bush, and don't disturb it. The baboons are raiding the campsite, but only the natural stuff.
When we open the tent, a distinct mouldy and nearly fermented odour meets us. The cover was NOT waterproof after all. I try to dry the mattress a bit before bedtime, and Gry prefer to sleep on the back seat. It is still smelly and moist when I head for the tent, and I place it on a nearby bush. I wake up around three, when the first drops hit the tent, and rescue the madras. A moist madras sure beats a towel and a fleece jacket in comfort.

From here, we head deep into the Okavango Delta in Diary 2.

                    

 

 

 

   Diary 1 + 2  Map + Plan  Photos